For longtime Resident Evil fans, Jill Valentine has been there since the beginning. She wasn’t much of a character in the original game, but nobody really was–after all, it was a corny hybrid of low budget experimentation and George Romero homage–much of it was deliberately or necessarily shallow. Yet, the series’ oddball charm endeared the characters to fans, and Jill was arguably the main character. But Capcom lost its way for a while with Resident Evil and, even when it found its way back, Jill got thrown under the bus. But with Capcom’s new Resident Evil 3 remake, we have a new opportunity to do Jill justice, to put her back in the spotlight the way many of her friends already have. And that’s exactly what happened here.
2019’s Resident Evil 2 remake was a brilliant game, but it was still Resident Evil 2. Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy are passive leads, outsiders who just happen into the Raccoon City outbreak. Their stories are mostly reactive, therefore the plot isn’t really about them as characters (they’re still cool though). But with Resident Evil 3, the whole thing revolved around Jill Valentine. Her presence is what drives the narrative, not the other way around. A big part of that is Nemesis chasing her down of course, but that’s from the player’s perspective. Nemesis is there because of Jill, because she knows what’s going on and who is responsible. But Jill being the plot-driving mechanism >isn’t the only reason why Resident Evil 3’s remake justifies itself.
Resident Evil 3 is full of life. Ironic, considering the scenario. Resident Evil 2 didn’t need it as much. Leon and Claire are pure babyface heroes, just trying to survive and be the good guys. Ada is there to add some intrigue, and everyone is charismatic and likeable, but nobody has a particularly compelling arc or presence. Resident Evil 3 is immediately interested in who Jill is and why she is who she is. It opens with a violent dream sequence, then through set design, shows us how the Spencer Mansion incident affected her. She has a wall of newspaper clippings and another wall of research materials all pinned together, detective/conspiracy theorist-style. Multiple bottles of pills cover her bedside table. Her space is mostly neat, but there’s a giant pizza box left open on a table and the fridge is covered in magnets. Yes, Jill survived a traumatic experience and there are side effects. But she is pressing forward, still fighting and still trying to live a life.
A few hours later, Jill is being attacked by a giant spider, and it lays eggs down her throat H.R. Giger-style. It’s a tutorial moment, the game showing Jill’s infected with parasites and giving you obvious clues that green herbs are a simple fix. She vomits graphically once you eat some. It’s a gruesome moment, but is a person puking really worse than… everything else happening? No, but it stands out because of how mundane it is. This game is interested in Jill Valentine as a character and a protagonist. This isn’t Tomb Raider (2013), in which the game goes out of its way to beat the hell out of Lara Croft to show how hard and traumatic her experience is. Jill has already faced the trauma and is choosing to engage with the situation in front of her. The vomiting stands out because it isn’t one moment among several, it’s something real happening to our video game hero, who has up until this point shrugged everything off. Moments earlier, she was dodge-rolling under Nemesis’ rolling lariats and knifing zombies to death.
Jill does awesome hero stuff. She kicks down vent covers to escape Nemesis, shoots exploding barrels, and exchanges ribs with Carlos. She says “fuck” a lot, eats hella pizza, and occasionally pukes when spiders lay eggs down her throat. She has layers, colored with moments of strength, humor, vulnerability, and anger. Despite the heavy genre vibes necessary for horror, Jill Valentine feels like a real person, like the hero of a blockbuster movie the audience can relate to. She isn’t a Nathan Drake, but she isn’t a typical “Strong Female Protagonist Defined by Trauma” either. It’s like Capcom’s team here knew Resident Evil 3 wouldn’t be able to capture the same atmospheric success as the previous game (a correct assumption), so it focused on breathing more life into the story. After being disappointed for so long with Jill’s later appearances in Resident Evil, it’s nice to be reminded why she was my favorite.
Resident Evil 3 launches for the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One, and the PC on April 3, 2020.